Yes, You Can Make Money in Prepress!

There are a number of new products and services available for printing companies today. Variable data services, list management, website design and support, social media management, PURL marketing campaigns, and other services are giving printers new revenue opportunities. But sadly, the learning curve is steep on the new services and printers need to make money today. To make money, printers only need to take an honest look at how they are pricing their prepress and desktop publishing services.Pricing procedures are still the biggest problem in most print shops. What are your desktop publishing/design sales? Are you making more in that department than you are paying in labor costs? If you just break even in that department, you need to either raise your prices or close it down and job out the work. I recently visited a shop where the total DTP sales looked good because all the plate charges were given to that department. Take away the plates and the company wasn’t doing enough typesetting or design business to cover the prepress person’s wages.

Define the Process

Are you doing design or prepress? Getting customer computer files to print is the job of a prepress technician, not a graphic designer. Since, in most shops, the prepress technician is the graphic designer, do you price work differently because the task requires different skills?

There is a difference between prepress work, typesetting, and design work. If the salespeople are able to identify the different classes of desktop publishing work, then applying a pricing procedure becomes easier.

Prepress work is that work that is required to get a job to print. It has a standard price or value. If a task should take one hour, you price it for one hour of work. Typical prepress prices are from $75 to $100 per hour. The minimum charge for prepress is 30 minutes. Not adding or charging for prepress is like not charging for the paper on a press run. Prepress is a function of most jobs, so you will have at least a 30 minute prepress charge on all jobs. Prepress functions are those functions that have to be done to get a final job. You have to retrieve a file, make a plate, impose a file, send a file to a digital machine, etc. You can assign a price to each step and charge accordingly.

Then there is typesetting. This is when you replicate a job. The customer gives you a sample of the original and you recreate it. What is required from the operator is typesetting skills. They have knowledge of page layout and illustration programs and can create a printable file. Some jobs are more complicated than others. The only design usually done is deciding on the typeface, type size, line length, and picking a piece of art from the electronic clip art file.

For prepress and typesetting, you can easily apply a price to the work because it can usually be done within a certain time. You know how long it takes to make a plate or fix a file. You know how long it should take to typeset the copy provided by the customer.

Are you charging enough for the tasks that take a particular amount of time to complete? This is where most printers lose their money. They don’t charge enough for the task being done. They charge for 15 minutes of time when it takes 45 minutes. They forget a step that takes time and don’t charge for it. Printers must be more realistic in estimating the time it takes to perform the prepress or typesetting tasks and price accordingly.

It quickly becomes obvious that there is a pricing problem if the desktop publishing department is billing less than the labor costs, particularly if the work consists mainly of prepress and typesetting functions.

Some printers say that one problem is they don’t know how long it will take to get a customer’s file ready for print. This can be solved by having standards for how customers should submit computer files for print. Customers who do not follow the standards should be charged to have the files repaired. If a printer must fix a file, then the charge should be no higher than the cost to typeset the file. It is often less expensive to reset the file rather than try to fix it.

Another issue is bad graphics. Sometimes it may be less expensive to print the file on a higher priced output device. For example, it might be more expensive to output a file to a digital color printer than to print it on an offset press, but the additional costs may be less than the cost to have the prepress department fix the file.

One technique that is used to price customer created files is to charge a 30-minute file handling fee. This gives the prepress person 30 minutes to get the file to print. If it cannot be output within 30 minutes, the job is stopped and the customer is told that the file failed to print. The customer is then given the option to either make the correction or let the printer fix the file for a certain price. How long it will take to fix the file is easily calculated since the prepress person already knows the problems.

Some printers object to this procedure because “they have already given a quote on the job.” If the job was quoted based on ready-to-print, customer created computer files, then the customer hasn’t completed their part of the agreement for that quoted price.

Printers who want to eat the charges should take a close look at the profit margins for the other production tasks. In many cases, the extra time used and not charged for by the prepress staff isn’t recovered in the selling price for the rest of the job. That is how the prepress department becomes the “black hole” of printing. It sucks profits away not only by not covering the prepress costs, but by taking profits from printing and bindery functions.


Devine Design

Design work is more complicated and has more value. This is a job where the designer is creating something for the customer. He is designing a newsletter and giving it a professional look. He is designing a corporate identity (business cards, letterhead, envelopes, and logo). Here you add value with the creativity and experience of the designer.

If the customer asks why it costs so much, tell them you are creating original work for them. If they want a lower price, they can put something together and you can typeset it for them. They pick the typeface, size, stock logos, etc., and you put it together so it will print. If the designer is using his creativity, then you are adding value and you should charge for it.

Freelance designers, ad agencies, and independent desktop publishers charge for the value of their creative skills. Why don’t printers? Designers charge for the time spent thinking about the job. They charge for research, meeting with the customers, telephone calls, and anything related to the job. Printers must approach design services in the same way and communicate to the customer that they are doing custom work with talent that the customer can’t get anywhere else.

If printers can segment their prepress, typesetting, and design work into different categories, they will be easier to price, manage, and make profitable. A printer should know how long prepress and typesetting will take and what the market value is for those tasks. The only real opened ended work will be the design work, where price should be less of an issue since the printer is providing value through the creative experience of the design staff.

If printers added just a few dollars to every order that touches the desktop publishing department each day, they could make money in prepress.


What’s Next After QR CODES?

You may have started noticing more and more QR codes popping up around you. Since we started talking about QR codes more than a year ago, the little squares are going mainstream. This trend is expected to continue as more people purchase smartphones with the ability to read the codes.

Now start watching for AR (Augmented Reality) codes that allow a viewer to see a live direct or indirect view of a physical, real-world environment whose elements are augmented by virtual computer-generated sensory input such as sound or graphics. As a result, the technology functions by enhancing one’s current perception of reality.

If the AR code is viewed through a smartphone or a computer connected camera, the viewer sees something different. A business card becomes a three-dimensional object. A street can have an overlay of digital information over the scene that allows the user to find out more about what he is seeing. Characters and scenes can rise out of the pages of a children’s story book and dance across the pages. The possibilities are endless. Hallmark had special AR cards available during the past holiday season.

If you want to see how they work, just visit It has videos of hundreds of visual examples of AR code applications.


PagePath and Intuit Partner

PagePath Technologies, the maker of MyOrderDesk and web2print services, has partnered with Intuit and now offers QuickBooks invoice generation through MyOrderDesk. MyOrderDesk users can now automatically generate invoices using Intuit’s small business accounting software without retyping. For additional information on MyOrderDesk and the QuickBooks module, contact PagePath at 866-770-7561 or


Facts You Should Know

More than 50% of email recipients delete marketing messages within two seconds of opening them. Salted Services, a company whose product tests and measures email marketing campaigns, studied the behavior of 14 million email recipients using the company’s Litmus Email Analytics product and found emails with targeted messages and subject lines improved these results, with as much as 77% of recipients spending 10 seconds or more reading their messages. The survey also found that mobile users spend longer reading messages than people using desktop computers.


John Giles is the author of “12 Secrets for Digital Success” and “The DTP PriceList.” He is the technology director and a consultant for CPrint International. He can be reached at 954-224-1942 or You can also find John on at @JohnG247 and To order John’s books, visit Read his blog at